Seared in Ann Miller's memory is the image of her grandmother, Nona Harry McWilliams, soaking in the view from her front porch rocker at 734 East Beach Blvd. in Gulfport. |
"She would sit for hours, rocking, so that is where all conversations took place," said Miller. "In our family, Christmas and Thanksgiving were always at that house."
Her grandmother had inherited the land from her parents, Dr. Jason J. Harry, remembered as Jefferson Davis' physician, and his wife, Munny. They'd bought the beachfront property to give each of their children a piece of land, and each did build.
Nona and her physician husband, Charles, constructed theirs in 1926, using a Spanish mission style by noted Coast architect Carl E. Matthes. The walls were thick and the windows placed for ventilation, which kept occupants cool before air conditioning.
The house passed on to their daughter Margaret, who with her husband, Archie Dickson, settled in in the early 1980s. As the Dicksons moved into their 80s, the family talked about an assisted-living apartment but the Dicksons didn't want to leave 734.
This stretch of East Beach and Second Street was a real neighborhood, where several generations of children played at each other's houses.
"For me it was always home, with my grandmother and then my parents living there," said Ann Miller. "With Katrina, it is like the roots have been ripped out, not just the loss of the house but all the family and childhood memories. Every house there had a story and you took it for granted that it would be there forever."
Katrina left some of 734 standing but structurally unstable. Ann's parents are now in an assisted-living apartment in Baton Rouge, where Ann and her husband also live.
"My parents are taking this surprisingly well," she said. "It's a whole different life for them but there are no choices for them on the Coast and they're not going to rebuild at their age."
But the land will stay in the family.
- KAT BERGERON